10 Questions – School Committee Questionnaire

2012 Newport, Rhode Island

School Committee Questionnaire

(October 8, 2012)  Each election year, in its continuing efforts to inform residents of Newport about critical issues impacting our city, ALN Board Members meet and develop a list of questions on what they feel are the most important issues our community is facing. This year our subscribers and members were asked to also submit ideas for the questions. The resulting list of ten questions is posted on our website with responses from the candidates for City Council. In a similar way, questions were developed for School Committee candidates and their responses too are being posted to the ALN website.

ALN hopes that publishing the questionnaires and responses will help our community be more informed at election time.

On October 18, ALN will sponsor a public forum for City Council candidates at 6:30 in City Council chambers. Each candidate for a contested seat will be given the opportunity to make introductory remarks and answer questions prepared for the occasion. We believe seeing the candidates “in action” is important to the voting public.

Please subscribe to our free eNewsletter and make a donation ($10 or more) so that we can continue to this kind of service to the citizens of Newport.

We appreciate your support and look forward to seeing you at the Forum and hearing your comments and feedback to the online questions and candidate answers on our website.

Our new website encourages you to share this information on Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter as well as “comment” on the information.  Anyone can comment, and you have the option to be notified each time a new comment is made on this topic.

*PDF document download button is located at the bottom of the screen below.

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“Engage Newport” article by Mike Cullen

“Engage Newport”

Getting our city to openly assess and discuss its performance when searching for missing persons or reacting to a natural disaster remains a perplexing challenge. Hopefully the city’s “Engage Newport” outreach effort will yield a more transparent and collaborative environment between the city’s police and fire departments and the served citizens. Citizens continue to have unanswered questions concerning 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene and 2012’s search for resident Brenda Batts which now stands in sharp contrast to the many local, state, and federal agencies that searched over 600 square mile search for resident Teddy Oliviera.

ALN advisor Mike Cullen, also moderator of KnowingNewport and one of the founders of NewportReady, delivered the following comments to the Newport City Council at the start of their July 24th meeting.

“It’s been six months since the death of Newport resident Brenda Batts by hypothermia and drowning. I am following up on a city official’s February promise to the Newport Daily News that his department would review the matter and seek areas of improvement so we can boost the odds of finding the next wandering and missing Newporter or visitor alive, not dead. The public was disturbed by the outcome. I’m not here to point fingers. I’m here asking that we solve this vexing public safety challenge together and out in the open. I have studied police and fire records provided me through a records act request. If the strategic goal is to make Newport more livable, then quite literally we need to lower the odds that missing persons will be found dead. Here are some of the open questions:

• Going forward what will police and fire be doing to find an at-risk resident in a more prompt manner (Batts had already been missing 12 hours and Alzheimer’s patients have a 60% death rate if not found within 12 hours) ? What is preventing the city from mobilizing and making a rapid “all-hands-on-deck” search for a wandering person — whether the person suffers from dementia, ADD, or Down’s Syndrome?

• When looking for an at-risk person will the city continue to demand that at least three police officers conduct a search of a missing person’s residence as a condition for an aggressive search and/or the issuance of a Silver Alert? City documents state that that the victim’s son refused the demand of police to allow entry of three officers. But he was willing to allow one officer to conduct a search. The city’s documents suggest that the city’s search was suspended shortly after the son’s refusal but restarted in the early morning hours.

• Can the city help the public understand when leadership’s decision would use the national “A Child is Missing” dialing service? This is a free service that has been advertised on the police department web site for several years but it was not used in the Batts case.

• The issuance of the Silver Alert via the state police appeared to take four hours. Are their local or state process improvements that could be made to streamline the process?

• Ms Batts had a previous wandering episode that involved Newport police. The police also advertise the “Return Home Safe” program on its web site. Is this information readily made known to public safety supervisors so they have earlier information about reported wanderers?

• Newporters are used to seeing strange human behavior. Can the city help us understand why public safety leadership would expect the public to phone-in reports of strange behavior when the public has not been informally cued to be on the lookout for a missing, at-risk person. Why should the burden be on the public to “see something, say something”?

Again, I commend the council on its quest to make Newport the most livable city in New England. I commend the city for using the continuous improvement methodology in the public works department. But let’s expand its use and potential for public benefit into the city’s public safety arena. Again, I’m not interested in pointing fingers; this isn’t a police thing; it’s not a fire thing. I’m interested in seeing our public safety people and processes working closely together even when dealing with rare events such as missing persons and hurricanes. Please make it a personal priority to find a way to ventilate the issues that I’ve raised and to facilitate an open lessons learned process.

The city not yet responded to any of these questions and ignored requests by NewportReady during August to engage on an important hurricane planning opportunity. The city finally opened up a line of communication with the group following Newport Daily News coverage of the NewportReady’s planning exercise and then an editorial that roundly criticized city officials for shunning the efforts of organized volunteers. The city has provided the group with a copy of the city’s
emergency operations plan and has promised to review the group’s suggestions. Hopefully the “Engage Newport” project will yield a city government that is more open to probing and questioning by its citizens who are keen to raise the performance bar.

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“Green Newport” article by Lauren Carson

According to the Discover Newport website, http://www.gonewport.com/green-newport

“Green Newport is not just historic and cultural treasures …we strive to preserve, its natural treasures as well. Surrounded by and dependent on its natural resources, ‘going green’ and reducing our environmental impact only makes sense, so we applaud area hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts, businesses, boutiques attractions, restaurants, transportation modes and visitors who join our commitment to reduce, reuse and recycle. Taking a green approach is an easy and essential way to protect the places you love to visit, not just for yourself but for the travelers who come after you and for the people who will continue to live there long after you’ve gone home.”

The Newport Energy and Environment Commission (NEEC) agrees. That is why the NEEC has launched a campaign in 2012 to make Newport events sustainable. The campaign goals are embodied in their campaign mission’s statement. “To work as a community to implement sustainable practices during major events held in Newport to reduce the impact of huge numbers of visitors on our sensitive coastal community and model methods of behavior that will protect our island for decades to come. Define specifically a five year goal to require sustainable events that make Newport a desirable and exciting tourist destination, build a sustainable economy and reduce impact on our valuable island resources.”

The specific goals of the Sustainable Events Campaign are to reduce carbon emissions and increase transportations options; divert waste from the landfill, expand recycling efforts in conjunction with the City, State and private efforts; increased business recycling; educate visitors and the community about Newport’s sustainable best practices; engage the tourism and boating community in these efforts; utilize State and Municipal resources for sustainability; and involve Newport residents in the building of a sustainable economy resulting in a higher quality of life for all Newporters and our guests.

The NEEC has worked all summer to measure how sustainable Newport Events currently are, as they propose this policy. They have studied 8 events in the City and will be distributing a summary report on those activities prior to the meeting. The NEEC is also drafting voluntary sustainable protocols for Newport for 2013.

The Newport Energy and Environment (NEEC) invites ALN members and all Newporters to a Community Workshop on Thursday October 25, 2012 at the Newport Library at 6:00. The workshop will focus on the NEEC’s efforts to build sustainable event protocols for Newport events.

The October 25th meeting will include a presentation of several of the case studies, a proposal for voluntary standards, and a community discussion.

(photo courtesy of Discover Newport)

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City of Newport Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Review article by Ron Becker

City of Newport Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Review

This past June the Newport City Council approved a budget and tax rates for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2012. It almost was a non-event. There was little controversy, the workshops and open hearings leading up to the final approval were sparsely attended and there was little public discussion by the Council members.

The only matter that received any serious attention was the School Department’s attempt to get the Council to agree to increased support, instead of the what has become traditional level funding over the past several years. In what has become a regular annual event, the School Superintendent and members of the School Committee pleaded for increased funding to make up for reduced federal and state support. The Council listened politely and silently and then voted for level funding. The only speaker in opposition to the School’s request was me, pointing out that each year for the past several years the School Committee requested increased funding, each year their request was denied and each year they closed out their budget with a surplus in excess of the increase that they had requested.

In most other matters the budget was an excellent one and Finance Director, Laura Sitrin, and City Manager, Jane Howington, are to be commended. Amortization schedules for the city’s pension and medical benefit liabilities were fully funded, controllable expenses were level-funded from the preceding fiscal year, all non-controllable expenses were fully funded and one-time versus ongoing revenues and expenses were closely balanced, avoiding negative impacts on future budgets.

It was disappointing that the Council’s work on a strategic plan for Newport was not completed in time to have any appreciable impact on this year’s budget. We can only hope that the priorities established in that strategic plan are carried over into future budgets, providing the financial direction to achieve Newport’s future growth and development.

The final rate approvals included a 2.5% increase in property taxes and no increase in water/sewer rates. The water/sewer rate leveling is a temporary hiatus and the City already has filed with the state for future rate increases. The property tax rate increase is modest compared to what is happening elsewhere in Rhode Island and reflects a firm effort to hold the line on controllable expenses.
Given all of the above, ALN will not hold a financial forum this year, as we feel that there are not sufficient high impact issues of concern to warrant such. We, however, will continue to monitor the City’s finances and report on any developments that deserve airing.


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ALN’S New Website! article by Chip Leakas

Alliance for a Livable Newport can now be found at http://newportalliance.org/!

The reasons for this change and many benefits of this new website can be summarized by our organizations desire and need to be connected to the various social media sites such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Linkedin.

The new NewportAlliance.org website is built on the WordPress platform…used by many leading organizations such as CNN and The Wall Street Journal.

The new website features you will notice include:

  • Site level “search” using “keywords” or “keyword phrases” to locate information and important updates about events, people, or our key focus areas
  • Connectors to Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Google+ allow anyone to easily share, comment or like any page or post.
  • Moderated Blog comments are open to all. Anyone can post their comments on important issues. We need feedback from our neighbors and the community to let us know what is important to you!
  • Watch a recorded video of current and past forums automatically on our webpage
  • Fast and easy ways to join, volunteer, or donate to ALN.
  • Neighborhood maps to show street boundaries of all Neighborhood Associations
  • A Calendar of Events anyone can easily share including maps.

Please visit the new site now! http://newportalliance.org/!

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